When Darral Willis plays basketball, all his skills and athletic abilities form into a dangerous post threat. When he pauses to think basketball, the results aren’t as impressive.
That is a standard issue for junior-college transfers, many of whom don’t feel acclimated in Wichita State’s system until January or later. Willis’ physical gifts can help him contribute quickly and he will get better as he learns how he best fits.
“Once you get it down pat, you’re just playing and you just know where you should be,” he said. “You get easy points.”
Willis, a 6-foot-8 junior, will team with juniors Shaq Morris and Rauno Nurger to give WSU its bodies in and around the lane. That two- or three-headed approach worked for WSU in past seasons, with Garrett Stutz and Carl Hall sharing minutes in 2012, Darius Carter-Chadrack Lufile-Kadeem Coleby in 2014 and Anton Grady and Morris last season.
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Morris, after a redshirt season, one learning from Carter and one paired with Grady, is the experienced big man for the first time.
“(Willis) still has a lot to learn and a lot of bad habits to shake off,” Morris said. “But he’s real coachable and you can tell he wants to get better.”
A sore throat took Willis out of practice for a few days, Marshall said, which slowed his progress.
“When he comes back from sitting over on the side … I’ve urged him to stay mentally engaged with practice, and that’s very difficult with him,” Marshall said. “It’s hard for him to focus when he’s not participating. I’ll teach something and I’ll turn to him and ask him, ‘Hey, what did we just call that’ and he will have no idea.”
Willis possesses the size, agility and basketball skills to team with Morris for a strong combo. Willis can score around the basket and make jumpers out near the three-point line. During WSU’s four-game exhibition trip to Canada, he showed increased willingness to post up in good position and rebound with two hands.
“He’s pretty talented, and he’s physically ready to play,” Marshall said.
Morris attests to that after months of practicing against Willis.
“He’s a ruthless competitor — he doesn’t feel like anybody can stop him,” Morris said. “You can tell when the ball touches his hand how he has a knack to get to the bucket.”
Some of that knack comes from his crafty left-handed shots and moves. At Pearl River (Miss.) Community College, he used those moves to earn third-team NJCAA All-American honors. He averaged 18.4 points and 10.4 rebounds for the Wildcats, making 59 percent of his shots and 75.3 percent of his free throws.
“He’s got those weird, awkward left-handed moves,” Morris said. “He uses his body in awkward ways to create space to get his shot off, with real awkward finishes.”